Onomatopoeia – How to “Sound” More Japanese

Posted on March 27, 2017 | genkijacs

“Onomatopoeia” is the beautiful art of describing things or actions by imitating or creating sounds. While in English and other European languages, they are mostly used to describe actual sounds, Japanese utilizes a wide variety of Onomatopoeia for all kinds of situationa. It is therefore very important to at least understand their meaning during conversation and if you want to go even further than that, using them yourself will make you sound more natural and less like a Japanese schoolbook. Just go ahead and try while we give you a short introduction to the world of Onomatopoeia.

Basically, Japanese Onomatopoeia can be divided into five categories:
1. 擬声語 (Giseigo)
2. 擬音語 (Giongo)
3. 擬態語 (Gitaigo)
4. 擬容語 (Giyougo)
5. 擬情語 (Gijougo)

The first two groups contain expressions that are used to describe actual sounds. However, as the kanji (for those of you who can read them) indicate, the Giseigo are only used for voice-related sounds (of animals or humans) such as ぶ―ん (buun = buzz), にゃん (nyan = meow) or うわーん!(uwaan = a child crying loudly).

Giongo on the other hand basically cover all the other sounds like ザーザー (zaa zaa = heavy rain) or めらめら (mera mera = suddenly bursting into flames).

Words contained in the third group, Gitaigo, are used to describe states or conditions. These are expressions such as がたがた (gata gata = rattling/clattering), むしむし (mushi mushi = hot and humid) or びしょびしょ (bisho bisho = soaked).

Giyougo, however, are usually used for motions or movements (often related to travelling from one place to another). Among these, you will find expressions like うろうろ (uro uro = wandering aimlessly) and グータラ (guutara = not having enough will power to do anything), which is probably the way many of us feel when having to leave our beds on Monday mornings.

The last group, Gijougo, contains words that describe certain feelings and emotions like i.e. ウキウキ (uki uki = cheerful) or うっとり (uttori = being fascinated by something beautiful).

Just in case you have been wondering, some onomatopoeia do in fact have kanji. Here are some examples:

燦々 (sansan = brilliant, shining)
齷齪 (akuseku = anxious feeling when under time pressure)
煌々 (koukou = bright and shining light)

However, these kanji will most seldom be seen in daily life as onomatopoeia are usually written in either Hiragana or Katakana.

Of course, these are just some examples. There are thousands of onomatopoeia in the Japanese language used in countless situations. Using them, you can talk about the weather, temperature, food, sickness, character traits, shapes and figures, accidents or even sports. They are therefore extremely convenient in daily life and not to be underestimated. Besides, they are very fun to learn.

Just go ahead and try!

数字世界へようこそ – Welcome to the World of Numbers

Posted on March 20, 2017 | genkijacs

For those of you who already had the pleasure of entering the Japanese “counting-system” during their studies, it probably goes without saying that learning all the different ways of counting various things can get you more than frustrated. And having to remember whether to use the original Japanese or the Sino-Japanese numbers (derived from China) does not make this any easier.

However, the Japanese “World of Numbers” can be quite fun in the context of Japanese sayings. Counting from 一 to 十, we would like to introduce one interesting phrase for each number. We hope you will find them just as amazing as we do.

一(いち)= one
.一を聞いて十を知る (いちをあいてじゅうをしる)
“You need only open one page of a book to understand everything.”
This phrase describes a person that understands all the content after learning only small pieces of the whole. It is thus, a wise and clever person.

二(に)= two
一石二鳥 (いっせきにちょう)
“To kill two birds with one stone”
The meaning of this saying is exactly the same as in English: Achieving two things at once.

三(さん)= three
一押し二金三男 (いちおしにかねさんおとこ)
“First power, second money, third manly appearance”
This phrase describes the three most important things that it takes for a man to gain a woman’s heart. According to this saying, the most important thing about a man is his authority, followed by his wealth. However, these two are not sufficient. The man should also be handsome.

四(し)= four
四知 (しち)
“the four knowledges”
In ancient China, some people valued a “four step path” to approach one another. These were known as 「天知る」, “knowing about the heavens” ( equivalent to “talking about the weather”), 「神知る」, “knowing about the gods”, 「我知る」, the “knowing about oneself” and 「子(相手)知る」, “knowing about your partner”.
The phrase 四知 refers to a person that does not understand this path and would reveal deep secrets even to people he barely knows.

五(ご)= five
“wind on the fifth and rain on the tenth”
This saying is a metaphor for peace and security in the world as the fifth (were there would usually be wind) and tenth (where there would be rain) of a month were believed to be good days for the crops on the fields.

六(ろく)= six
“eight faces, six arms”
This simply means that one can achieve great things when working together with others. Another interpretation is that work gets easier when you share it.

七(なな)= seven
“the parents’ influence is sevenfold”
This saying tries to evaluate a parent’s influence on their child. It thereby reflects on two different points of view: behavior and status.
With this phrase one can express that a child is most likely to assume his parents’ behavior in both good and bad ways. However, it also often used to describe that children hugely benefit from their parents’ fame or position in society.

八(はち)= eight
“The one looking from the outside has many eyes.”
Whenever you find yourself in a serious fight with a good friend and searching for someone with an objective opinion to help you out, this phrase might come in handy.
It simply means that the one who is not involved is able to see the matter in a different, neutral light.

九(きゅう)= nine
“gain a whole life after nine deaths”
The phrase 「九死」(=nine deaths) refers to situation that you are unlikely to survive. On the contrary, 「九死に一生を得る」is often used after escaping a life threatening situation.

十(じゅう)= ten
“ten men, ten colors”
This wonderful, very wise saying describes a fact that is known all over the world: everyone is different. Not only by the looks, but also by opinions, tastes etc. no man is 100 % equal to another.

Are you a carrot?

Posted on March 13, 2017 | genkijacs

Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of. They are part of being human. That is to say, everybody makes them and no one can totally escape them. Especially when learning Japanese, it is absolutely natural to mix up grammar or vocabulary since it is full of expressions that sound terribly similar.

However, there are some mistakes that you should rather avoid unless you are eager to find yourself in an embarrassing situation. Here are some of the most dangerous mistakes that Gaikokujin often get confused with.

1. Imagine yourself in a restaurant ordering a 痴漢バーガー(chikan ba-ga-) instead of a チキンバーガー(chikin ba-ga-). If that has ever happened to you and you have been wondering what that weird smile on the waiter’s face was about, let us enlighten you:
痴漢 (chikan) = pervert; チキン (chikin) = chicken.

2. A lot of foreigners might have accidentally asked a rather corpulent woman whether she was a carrot, ニンジン (ninjin), simply because they understood that she might be pregnant, 妊娠 (ninshin). However, we strongly advise to ask neither of the two unless you are 100% sure that she really is a carrot, ehhh… pregnant.

3. At least once in your life, you might come to a point when you see fit to go to your superior and ask for a big 恐竜 (kyoryu). In that case, you will most probably be highly disappointed as asking for a dinosaur rarely meets with success. Yet, had you actually been referring to a higher 給料 (kyuryo), salary, you might actually be able to achieve your aim. (But let us be honest: Who would wish for a raise when they can have their own dinosaur?)

4. Have you ever tried to compliment a young mother by saying to her child 「怖い赤ちゃんですね。」(“Kowai akachan desu ne.”)? We suggest you don’t start doing so now. No woman appreciates her child being called a “scary” or “creepy baby”. Instead you should rather smile at the little boy or girl saying 「可愛い赤ちゃんですね。」(“Kawaii akachan desu ne.”) referring to it as “cute”. (Even though it might really not be as cute as its parents think.)

5. Another awkward situation will arise should you mix up 座る (suwaru), to sit down, and 触る (sawaru), to touch. Just imagine a poor foreigner pointing at the nearest chair asking 「触ってもいいですか。」(“May I touch this?”).

Have we made you nervous about talking Japanese now? In that case, there are plenty, plenty more expressions to worry about, so you better study hard, or else!

Just kidding. It is okay to make mistakes, so don't be too hard on yourself. The only way to memorize all these is to remember all the funny and awkward situations your errors have let you to and learn from your mistakes. Your Japanese friends will totally understand. :)

Jorean...? or rather Karanese...?

Posted on March 06, 2017 | genkijacs

Anyone who has taken the effort of studying both Japanese and Korean might have recognized some undeniable similarities between the two. Not only is the sentence structure identical in many ways, but their pronunciation of words is also incredibly similar.

Actually, there is a lot of discussion among linguists about whether these languages are related or whether it is simply due to Chinese influence in Asian languages that make them sound as though they belong together. (However, the Chinese sentence structure differs a lot from the Japanese and Korean one).

Here are some words that Japanese and Korean seem to share:

Japanese Korean English
写真 (shashin) 사진 (sajin)


計算 (keisan) 계산(gyesan) math
地震 (jishin) 지진(jijin) earthquake
新聞 (shinbun) 신문(shinmun) newspaper
簡単 (kantan) 간단(gandan) easy

Let’s Chat – the Japanese Way ^^

Posted on February 27, 2017 | genkijacs

Have you ever caught yourself boasting that you are fluent in a language and then suddenly feeling ashamed when your friends ask you to help them translate what their foreign exchange partner had texted them online? – You are not the only one.

Among all the possible grammar, expressions and vocabulary, internet slang is often the most difficult to understand for non-native speakers as it develops and changes incredibly fast. To some it may seem as though there are new words and expressions every day. Japanese is no exception to that.

Like in many European languages, abbreviations are often used on chatrooms, blogs etc. These abbreviations may be short for English words as well as Japanese ones. Here are a few examples:

→ コピペ – "kopipe" → copy and paste
→ GJ → Good Job
→ うp – uppu → upload
→ おk → OK
→ wwww – equivalent to LOL

Inventing new words on the internet is also just as popular among Japanese people as it is nearly everywhere else. Just have a look at the following examples:

→ ググる – "guguru" → to research something on Google
→ ゆうつべ – "yuutsube" → Youtube
→ カワユス – "kawayusu" → (derived from kawaii) to be cute

However, there is one aspect about Japanese internet slang that will never appear in European languages: Using different kanji to abbreviate the writing progress. This part might be the most troublesome for foreigners since we have a tendency of trying to make out the meaning first before thinking of the bigger picture. Yet, in order to understand these slang words, knowing the reading comes in handy. Would you recognize the following expressions?

→ 今北 (now north???) – "ima kita" → 今来た。 (I just got here.)
→ 裏山C (backside mountain C???) – "urayamashii" → 羨ましい (to envy)

Of course, there is a lot more to learn about internet slang words in Japanese as e.g. the kaomoji that you might have read about in one of our previous entries.

If you really want to master your Japanese friends’ online messages, tweets etc. the best way to learn all of it is to ask either them or another native speaker. (Though even Japanese people might not understand all of the expressions used online.)

English Origin?

Posted on January 30, 2017 | genkijacs

When learning a new language, there is happily always some vocabulary incorporated that we already know from other languages. Japanese offers a lot of terms that derived from the English language. However, as a non-native English speaker, you should beware unless you want British or American people making funny expressions when you talk to them. Some Japanese expressions that appear to be English may in fact just be modern Japanese. Here are some examples:

→ キーホルダー (ki-ho-ruda; key holder): key ring, key chain
→ ベビーカー (bebi-ka; baby car): stroller
→ ポテトフライ (poteto furai; potato fry): french fries (US), chips (UK)
→ ジェットコースター (jetto ko-suta-; jet coaster): roller coaster
→ カージャック (ka-jakku: car-jacking): hijacking a car

The Legendary Turtle Shell – How Kanji Came to Life

Posted on January 23, 2017 | genkijacs

Whoever studies the Japanese language will eventually come across the complex writing system based on the Chinese characters called Kanji. Memorizing them is probably the hardest part when studying Japanese. However, it can also be quite interesting learning about their origin and their development.

There are several theories about how they first came to life. One of them is particularly interesting:

It all began around 4,000 years ago somewhere in China. Back then, people had a lot of questions; Questions that only the heavens could answer. For only the heavens had the power of divination and could foresee whether it was going to rain or if a big disaster lay ahead. So the people sacrificed animals and offered them their bones along with turtle shells. When burned, these shells formed cracks illustrating the heavens’ forecast. Comparing the cracks to real-life things, the people could analyze them and understand the heavens’ messages.
After a while, the people realized that they had discovered a good way to communicate with the heavens and soon receiving messages was not enough for them anymore. So they replicated the cracks and wrote them on unburned turtle shells asking for things they needed.
Many years later, during the Zhou dynasty, these turtle shells were found and then became the foundation of a new writing system in China.

Of course, this was only the beginning. Chinese scribes added a lot of characters or made up new ones when they did not know the original meaning. Moreover, the characters changed over time, simplifying the writing but solidifying their meaning.
By the way, it wasn’t until 500 AD that Kanji came to Japan. Until then, Japanese had not had its own writing system. In other terms, it had been a pure spoken language before that.

Should you want to learn more about Kanji history, here are some sources that you might find interesting:

Japanese “Cat-phrases”

Posted on January 16, 2017 | genkijacs

Every language has sayings in which animals play an important role. However, in Japanese, the cat appears particularly often. Here are some “cat-phrases” that will make you smile. (Unless, of course, you are allergic to these cute pets.)

Do you know the feeling of impatiently waiting for your nice hot coffee to cool down because your tongue will get burned if you don’t? Then you may have a 猫舌 (neko jita) a cat’s tongue. This means you cannot drink or eat if you’re meal is too hot.

Maybe, you drink it anyway and spill the hot coffee all over the table in pain. If you don’t want anyone to find out it was you, you might want to look as innocent as possible and 猫を被る(neko wo kaburu), dress up as a cat. This term is more than fitting, don’t you agree? Let’s be honest. Cats look cute but they sure aren’t completely innocent .

The next phrase emphasizes this fact. 猫に鰹節 (neko ni katsuobushi). Just imagine putting some delicious fish-shaped flakes directly next to a cat. You will have to pay great attention. Otherwise, you will find yourself in an incredible mess. That is exactly what this phrase intends to describe: a situation where you mustn’t lose focus.

However, if you did lose focus, you will need a lot of help cleaning up the mess. You will be so busy you would even 猫の手も借りたい (neko no te mo karitai), want to borrow a cat’s paw.

Still, you might then find yourself with 猫の子一匹いない(neko no ko ippiki inai), not even one kitten there.

The Japanese language is full of cat-related expressions. If you like these cute little animals, do some research and thereby safe your day.
By the way, did you know that Japanese cats do not say “meow” but “にゃん” (“nyan”)?

早言葉(はやことば) Tongue Twisters

Posted on January 09, 2017 | genkijacs

They do exist in the Japanese language as well: the loved and feared tongue twisters. They help us make a fool of ourselves but that is exactly why it is fun to try.
Japanese has a grand variety of these 早言葉(はやことば). Some are more difficult than others. Here are some examples. Practice them and impress your Japanese friends.

→ 李も桃も桃のうち。(すもももももももものうち。) "sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi" (that's a record 8 "momo"s in a row!)
It means: Both plums and peaches belong to the peach family.

→ 隣の客はよく柿食う客だ。(となりのきゃくはよくかきくうきゃくだ。) "tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da"
The customer next to me is a customer who often eats khaki.

→ 二羽の庭には二羽鶏にワニを食べた。(にわのにわにはにわにわとりにワニをたべた。) "niwa no niwa ni wa niwatori ni wani o tabeta"
In (Mr.) Niwa’s garden, two chickens ate a crocodile.

→ 赤巻紙、黄巻紙、青巻紙(あかまきがみ、きまきがみ、あおまきがみ) "akamakigami, kimakigami, aomakigaki"
Red scroll, yellow scroll, blue scroll.

Shiritori (しりとり)

Posted on December 19, 2016 | genkijacs

This game is a fun way of memorizing vocabulary. Shiritori means “taking the end”, which is exactly what this fun Japanese word game is about. The players take turns saying words that start with the last kana character of the previous one. Of course, there are similar games in other languages but the challenge becomes even greater when played with kana instead of letters.

Why don’t you go ahead and try this game with your friends? These are the basic rules:

1. Of course, the word has to start with the previous word’s last syllable.
2. A word can only be used once.
3. If the word ends in ん, the next player loses.
4. If a word’s last kana has a “long sound” (chuon), there are three different possibilities. (ex.: きょうとう):
4.I. Use the chuon as a vowel. (In the example, オcould be used as the beginning of the following word; e.g.オレンジ.)
4.II. Ignore the chuon. (In the example, the next word could begin with ト; e.g. トマト. )
4.III. Let the next word begin with a chuon. (e.g. とうきょう)